What Can We Expect From Brandon Marshall In 2013?
All but lost in the shadow of Calvin Johnson's record-setting season, Marshall set new career bests with 118 receptions, 1,508 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Completely healthy following hip surgery, with a new, offensive-minded head coach in Marc Trestman and the potential of finally playing 16 games with quarterback Jay Cutler, and Marshall may be looking at another career year next season.
According to Larry Meyer of the Bears' official website, Marshall returned to practice Tuesday for the first time since undergoing relatively minor surgery on his hip in January. He claimed to be 100 percent healthy and void of any lingering soreness.
Smartly, the Bears took ample time to let Marshall heal before clearing him to return.
Per Meyer, Marshall's arthroscopic surgery was necessary to help fix a hip problem that has hampered the receiver for most of the last two seasons.
The Bears now have to be giddy about getting Marshall back to full health.
"I'm excited to see what I can do fully healthy," Marshall said, via Meyer.
Yet health isn't the only factor in heightened expectations for Marshall in 2013.
Once a football team based around Lovie Smith's attacking defense, the Bears figure to be entering a new era under Trestman's watch. Marshall told Meyer he's never been around a better coaching staff in his NFL career.
I've never been around better coaches. Lovie [Smith]: amazing coach, amazing man. Coach [Mike] Shanahan: amazing coach, one of the gurus of the game. Josh McDaniels: One of the gurus on offense. But what we have here in coach Kromer and coach Trestman, their leadership on offense is amazing. I've never been around it.
A former head coach of the Montreal Alouettes of the CFL, Trestman enters the NFL with over 20 years of experience coaching offense and quarterbacks at the professional level. He's previously worked with quarterbacks such as Bernie Kosar, Steve Young, Rich Gannon and CFL MVP Anthony Calvillo.
The Bears now hope the two can help turnaround the career of the 30-year-old Cutler.
After peaking for the division champion Bears in 2010 with a passer rating of 86.3, Cutler has seen his passer rating drop in each of the last two seasons. Over that time, Cutler has been sacked 61 times and has thrown 21 interceptions in just 25 games. The Bears have also missed the playoffs in each season.
With Cutler clearly in need of a career revitalization, Trestman and Kromer arrive in Chicago at the perfect time.
A quarterback guru like Trestman may eventually want Cutler to spread the football around more in 2013, but the Cutler-Marshall magic has always been present, even in down seasons for the quarterback.
Over their final two seasons in Denver, Cutler and Marshall combined for over 100 connections and nearly 1,300 yards. Marshall's first season in Chicago brought another season of 100-plus catches and over 1,200 yards.
It's also worth nothing that Marshall posted his numbers despite Cutler missing a game and a half with a concussion.
For Cutler, staying on the field has been a task the past two seasons. And Chicago has clearly suffered because of it.
A thumb injury in 2011 cost Cutler the final six games of the season, as the Bears collapsed down the stretch and missed the postseason.
A year ago, Cutler suffered his concussion in Week 9. Chicago lost four of its final seven games and missed the playoffs, sealing the fate of Smith as the head coach.
While nothing in the NFL is ever guaranteed in terms of injury, one could only assume Cutler's luck will eventually turn around. If healthy for a full 16 games, Cutler, Marshall and the rest of the Bears offense could certainly take off under Trestman.
Will Brandon Marshall catch 100 or more passes in 2013?
Potentially helping Cutler stay healthy in 2013 will be the Bears' aggressive approach to fixing the offensive line this offseason. While Marshall still produced with a poor offensive line in Year 1, Cutler has been hit and sacked as much as any quarterback over the last three seasons.
Bears general manager Phil Emery made it a priority to fix that obvious flaw.
Chicago signed a new starting left tackle in Pro Bowler Jermon Bushrod during free agency and then drafted Oregon's Kyle Long in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft. He may start at either right guard or right tackle.
Almost certainly, the Bears will be better at protecting their quarterback next season. Kromer, whose offensive line surrendered the fewest sacks in the NFL during his time leading the unit, wouldn't have it any other way.
The cumulative effects of vast improvements across the offense can only benefit a star receiver like Marshall.
And if so, Marshall might be able to take a run at some NFL receiving records. Or at least move himself up the leaderboards.
Marshall's 118 receptions in 2012 placed him 10th all-time for receptions in a season. Five more catches, and he would have tied Wes Welker and Herman Moore for second place behind Marvin Harrison's 143.
Even if the Bears do spread the football around more and Marshall's catches go down, an increase in efficiency could cause his receiving yardage to go up.
If Cutler is healthy for 16 games, and Trestman's offense is even a slight upgrade on what Mike Tice and Lovie Smith brought to the table in 2012, is it so hard to envision Marshall replicating Johnson's 2011 season (96 catches, 1,681 yards, 16 touchdowns)? The 1,681 yards ranks as the eighth most in NFL history.
The Bears were able to squeeze a career year out of Marshall during his first season in Chicago despite a nagging hip injury, the limitations of the Bears offense and the shaky health of Cutler.
With at least two of those problems seemingly fixed—and the luck of Cutler bound to turn around behind a rebuilt offensive line—Marshall appears to be in line for another monster season in 2013.
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